Why do we have middle names: A modern perspective

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Most people know that having a middle name is customary, but do you know why do we have middle names?

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just because our parents loved us enough to give us three names. There are actually a few reasons why having a middle name has become common practice.

Let’s explore some of those reasons and find out why you might want to consider giving your child a middle name too!

Why do we have middle names – the short answer

GIF Credit: Giphy

Middle names are a unique identifier that might not seem important to you now, but can be useful in the future. Middle names are given for many reasons but most commonly because of tradition or family lineage or simply adding more uniqueness to your name.

Middle names can also be used as an homage to someone who has passed away and is still loved by those left behind. You don’t have to just use your middle name as a tribute though; it could be something you’re interested in such as plants, animals, sports teams, favorite books/movies/bands, etc.

There are several benefits of having a middle name: it’s another way for people to know which person they’re referring to when talking about you (especially if there’s two of you with the same name), can be helpful when filling out forms that ask for your full name, and can give you a sense of identity or security.

Why do we have middle names – the origin and evaluation

GIF Credit: Giphy

Middle names have been around for centuries and were often given to aristocratic families in Europe.

The Roman Empire is where the tradition of having three or more names began. It was common for wealthy citizens to have three names – the first name was usually their personal name, the second was the name of their father, and the third was their family name.

If you live in ancient Rome with multiple names, then it’s likely that you are somebody or somebody’s somebody.

In the US

Did you know we actually had two US presidents named John Quincy Adams? 

Even after Adams, presidents didn’t always have middle names. It wasn’t until Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 that almost every U.S. president had a middle name.

Middle names slowly began to spread throughout Europe and eventually made its way to America. The reason is up for debate but some say it’s because more and more people were starting to adopt the European tradition of having three names. Also, as more people migrate to the US, more people are also using middle names to honor their origin. 

In the first decade of the 19th century, over 50% of boys in France had just one first name, while 37% had a middle name as well and 8% had two middle names (3 given names in all).

Elsewhere

By the end of the 19th century, the number of boys with just one name was under 33%, while 46% of boys had two given names and 23% had 3.

It took a while longer for the practice to reach England and Scotland. British historian William Camden wrote in 1605 that having two Christian names was rare in England, and Stephen Wilson writes that only 10% of the British population had a middle name in 1800. 

Some people say the three-name structure started in the Middle Ages when Europeans were torn between giving their child a saint’s name or a common family name.

The middle name also serves as a code to trace the family tree. For example, lengthy Spanish and Arabic names sometimes adopt paternal or maternal names from previous generations to map out the individual’s family tree. 

The three-name structure used today began in the Middle Ages when Europeans were torn between giving their child a saint’s name or a common family name. 

Non-English speaking countries

In other non-English speaking countries, like the Chinese, there are traditionally no middle names. Chinese typically have 2 characters in their surname and tend to present their last name first such as the case in Xi Jin Ping. (Sometimes you will see media use Xi Jinping or Jinping Xi to make it easier to understand for English readers.)

7 Benefits of having a middle name (or two)

If you are still unsure about why do we have middle names, then you might like this section. 

Not that his article only covers a few of the many possible benefits of having a middle name or two.

#1. Special: an easy way to make them even more special. 

#2. Traditional: the first to give your son or daughter a middle name. 

#3. Sound more pleasant between the baby’s first name and your last name. 

#4. Memory: remember someone, pay homage, or honor someone special. 

#5. Aspirational: with stories of a particular middle name

#6. Noble: The middle name concept probably started with the ruling class in Rome according to Times. It was a way to which family one comes from and, more importantly, why one matters.

#7. Smart: CNBC reported that people think people with middle names are more intelligent. Research also finds that it could help get a job. 

Why do we have middle names?
Why do we have middle names?
7 Ideas To Craft Awesome Middle Names

Credit: People.com

Previously, it is common for a woman to keep their maiden name as a middle name. A famous example of using the maiden name as the middle name is Hillary Clinton. 

The full name of this former First Lady of the US is Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton, who formerly went by Hillary Rodham Clinton. This may seem like Hillary has multiple middle names. But, actually, Rodham is not her middle name, Diane is. That’s why sometimes you see a woman may have two family names in their name. 

I’m actually curious about when women adopt the practice of dropping their father’s surname once married. 

1. Pay homage to someone you admire.

2. Remember your heritage and incorporate it into your naming choice.

3. Make it personal – give your child a name that has meaning to you.

4. Make it about value or belief – choose a name that reflects what you hold dear.

5. Check the sounds – the ‘c’ sound in a name can make a big difference.

6. Check the initials and acronyms for Aidan – include your husband’s name or your own.

7. Google the name: see if negative comes up – search on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more to get an idea of what it will be like with your child’s name.

Whatever route you decide to go down, remember that the middle name is a reflection of your child and should be something they will love and be proud of. So take your time, do your research and have fun creating this very special part of their name.

Popular Middle Names

According to VeryWellFamily, below are 100 one-syllable choices to help you find the right one to tuck between their first and last names:

1-Syllable Middle Name

  • Ann (Anne)
  • Bay
  • Bea
  • Bee
  • Belle
  • Beth
  • Blaire
  • Blake
  • Bliss
  • Blue
  • Blythe
  • Brae
  • Bree
  • Britt
  • Brooke
  • Bryne
  • Brynn
  • Cass
  • Claire
  • Chris
  • Dale
  • Dawn
  • Dell
  • Dove
  • Drew
  • Elle
  • Eve
  • Faith
  • Fawn
  • Faye
  • Fern
  • Flor
  • Frost
  • Gem
  • Grace
  • Greer
  • Hope
  • Jade
  • Jai (Jay)
  • Jan
  • Jane
  • Jazz
  • Jean (Jeanne)
  • Jess
  • Jill
  • Jo
  • Joy
  • Jude
  • June
  • Kai
  • Kat
  • Kate
  • Kay
  • Lake
  • Lane
  • Lark
  • Leaf
  • Lee (Leigh and Li)
  • Liv
  • Love
  • Lou (Lu)
  • Lux
  • Lynn (Lynne)
  • Mae
  • Maeve
  • May
  • Moss
  • Nell
  • Neve
  • North
  • Paige
  • Pam
  • Peace
  • Pearl
  • Plum
  • Quinn
  • Rae
  • Rain
  • Reese
  • Rose
  • Ruth
  • Sage
  • Sam
  • Scout
  • Shae
  • Shawn
  • Shore
  • Sky (Skye)
  • Sloane
  • Snow
  • Spring
  • Star (Starr)
  • Sue
  • Tate
  • Teal
  • Tess
  • True
  • Vale
  • Wren
  • Wyn

2-Syllable Middle Names

  • Abby (Abbie)
  • Ada
  • Adele
  • Aiko
  • Ainsley
  • Alice
  • Alma
  • Amber
  • Amy
  • Anna
  • Apple
  • April
  • Aqua
  • Arden
  • Aubrey
  • Audrey
  • Autumn
  • Ava
  • Bailey
  • Bebe
  • Bette (Betty)
  • Bella
  • Billie
  • Brenna
  • Brooklyn
  • Bunny
  • Cadi (Cady)
  • Cali (Callie)
  • Camille
  • Carly
  • Casey
  • Celeste
  • Charlotte
  • Chloe
  • Clara
  • Cody
  • Cora
  • Corinne
  • Daisy
  • Daphne
  • Demi
  • Dolly
  • Eden
  • Elaine
  • Ella
  • Elsa
  • Emma
  • Etta
  • Fallon
  • Fuchia
  • Garnet
  • Gia
  • Giselle
  • Greta
  • Hailey
  • Hana (Hannah)
  • Harper
  • Hazel
  • Ingrid
  • Ivy
  • Jamie
  • Jasmine
  • Jenna
  • Jewel
  • Jordan
  • Journey
  • Josie
  • Katelynn
  • Kayla
  • Keira
  • Kelly
  • Kenya
  • Laura
  • Lauren
  • Lily
  • Lola
  • Louise
  • Mary
  • Maya
  • Megan
  • Mia
  • Molly
  • Nicole
  • Nora
  • Nova
  • Olive
  • Orchid
  • Peyton
  • Piper
  • Reagan
  • Riley
  • Ruby
  • Sadie
  • Sarah
  • Scarlett
  • Simone
  • Skylar
  • Sophie
  • Willow
  • Zoe (Zoey)

3- and 4-Syllable Middle Names

  • Abigail
  • Adalynn
  • Adaline
  • Adelaide
  • Addison
  • Alexandra
  • Allison
  • Annabelle
  • Aria (Ariya)
  • Artemis
  • Athena
  • Augustine
  • Aurora
  • Avalon
  • Avery
  • Bethany
  • Brianna
  • Camila
  • Cassandra
  • Caroline
  • Celia
  • Charisma
  • Christina
  • Coraline
  • Dakota
  • Deborah
  • Delilah
  • Destiny
  • Eleanor
  • Elena
  • Eliza
  • Elizabeth
  • Eloquence
  • Emerson
  • Emery
  • Emily
  • Evelyn
  • Everest
  • Everly (Everleigh)
  • Fiona
  • Francesca
  • Gabrielle (Gabriella)
  • Genevieve
  • Genesis
  • Gianna
  • Gillian
  • Henrietta
  • Hermione
  • Hyacinth
  • Imagine
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Isabel (Isabelle)
  • Jocelyn
  • Julia
  • Juliet
  • Juniper
  • Karina
  • Katherine
  • Kensington
  • Lavender
  • Legacy
  • Leilani
  • Liberty
  • Lillian
  • Lorelei
  • Lydia
  • Mackenzie
  • Madison
  • Magnolia
  • Makayla
  • Maria
  • Marigold
  • Marisol
  • Melanie
  • Melody
  • Meredith
  • Milena
  • Miriam
  • Nadia
  • Naomi
  • Natalie
  • Nevada
  • November
  • October
  • Olivia
  • Ophelia
  • Priscilla
  • Rebecca
  • Samantha
  • Savannah
  • Sierra
  • Sophia
  • Susanna
  • Tabitha
  • Trinity
  • Victoria
  • Violet
  • Waverly
  • Winona

Final Thoughts

A middle name has come to be seen as an additional identifier of a person’s individuality.

They are given at birth or in some cultures, adopted later on. Traditionally they were used to identify the individual with multiple names within one household and also served as protection against evil spirits according to some sources!

Middle names can provide benefits like avoiding confusion where two people have identical first and last names (think John Smith Jr.), but if you don’t want your child saddled with that extra weight of another name, there is no rule saying that he/she needs one.

If you want even more ideas, be sure to check out our hand-craft middle name articles for some of the more popular names here.


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Author
Shane
Shane is passionate about researching and comparing interesting baby stuff for his baby girl. After getting his Master's in Health Management in London, he worked for a top-tier naming and branding consulting firm based in the US. He helps with the research on this site.

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